Liz Sheffield

Bridging the Digital Divide: How to Effectively Bring Online Health Care to the Workplace

Between digital records, online appointment scheduling and video conference consultations, technology has revolutionized health care. For patients with internet access, these advancements have opened up countless new avenues to manage their health. Unfortunately, the technological streak in the field isn’t universally accessible, and many Americans can’t fully appreciate the impact of technology on health care day to day.

In 81 percent of households with an average total income of $100,000 or more, workers say they spend at least some time doing work online. That number drops considerably as income decreases, with just 36 percent of workers in lower-income households claiming the same thing. This discrepancy mirrors a larger problem with technology use among the less wealthy — lower-income Americans are twice as likely as people in other income groups to be digitally unprepared, which means many people in the United States lack the ability to benefit from technology in health care.

How Does the Digital Divide Impact Access to Health Care?

The New York Times reports that 10 percent of Americans (34 million people) lack access to high-speed internet. Employees need broadband services to unlock the potential that new technology holds for health care. Without quality internet access, it’s challenging for an employee to refill a prescription online or participate in an online meeting with their doctor.

At first glance, these might seem like
unnecessary luxuries. But when used properly, they result in better care for patients and more savings overall. A pilot project from the Mississippi Diabetes Telehealth Network allowed 100 people to regularly connect with doctors online. In the pilot’s first year, none of the participants had any hospital readmissions. The program, credited with cutting costs by more than $28,000 a month, is now predicted to save the state $189 million annually if extended to all diabetes patients in Mississippi.

What Can You Do to Support Employees?

Employers can play a vital role in providing people who need it access to online health care tools. Of course, it wouldn’t be feasible to supply every employee with internet services at home, but there are ways to help employees manage their health online without making any changes outside the office.

  1. Provide training on health care technology. Educate your employees on their options and new ways to integrate technology into their health care. If they’ve never used some online tools before, they might have strong opinions on the disadvantages of technology in health care or be otherwise hesitant to try them. Concerns employees voice often center on privacy, including fears that information stored online might be shared or stolen. Be a confident and calm presence in these conversations to alleviate your employees’ worries — letting them know, for instance, that technological health care services are confidential, and that restrictions on sharing medical information don’t change because that information is stored or transferred online.
  2. Create worksite kiosks with a digital device and broadband access.
    If your worksites have access to broadband connections, extend that access to employees with a kiosk where they can take advantage of online health services and manage their health records. Make sure the employees know where to find the kiosk and offer to provide assistance for anyone who isn’t familiar with it or the tools it offers.
  3. Offer a private space at each worksite for video conferencing. Try dedicating a small, quiet area for employees to discuss their health needs with remote care providers. Providing a place for employees to conduct their appointments via video not only encourages them to use the new technology but also increases productivity, effectively reducing the amount of time employees have to take off of work to see a doctor. Keep in mind that some employees might feel uneasy about the idea of managing their health care at work, so be prepared to field questions about how and when to use the space until employees become accustomed to it.
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The impact of technology on health care is far-reaching, and the entire field is working to adapt. Employers have an unprecedented ability to ensure that their workers have access to great health care tools. Don’t let the digital divide hold your employees — or your business — back.

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